BY GEOFF HOBSON
Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau went straight to the top of the NFL passing stats Wednesday for his first interview for an offensive coordinator when he met with Colts quarterbacks coach Bruce Arians.
Arians interviewed after the Colts granted permission for him to speak with a team seeking to upgrade the NFL's last-ranked pass offense with struggling franchise quarterback in Akili Smith heading into his third season.
Arians likes the look of Bengals Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon because the Colts' signature is the play-action pass, which is the centerpiece of aggressive run action that sets up long pass plays down the field.
Arians, 48, is the only position coach Peyton Manning has known since coming into the NFL in 1998. In the past two seasons, the Colts have finished fourth and second, respectively, in the league in passing during seasons Manning has thrown for more than 4,000 yards.
"The young quarterback has to play with confidence," Arians said. "You can't give him too much and you can't give him too little. You've got to give him enough to win, but you can't give him so much that he can't execute."
Arians, who has also been mentioned as a candidate in Arizona, is clearly versed in the problems of the Bengals' ability to jump start Smith.
But he also sees Dillon and receivers Peter Warrick and Darnay Scott and said, "Obviously you've got a tailback that can run the ball and the receivers bring a lot to the table, so you have to find out what players do best and do it."
Arians realizes Smith isn't the same type of player as Manning, but they also have some similarities.
"Akili's got a big-time arm and he's athletic," Arians said. "The key difference is experience. Peyton has taken every snap in every game except one and he's taken every snap in every practice. Our No. 2 (quarterback) has never taken a snap. So he's got five years of experience. It's just a matter of getting (Smith) the experience."
Not only did Colts receiver Marvin Harrison lead the NFL with 102 catches and finish one touchdown
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shy of league-leader Randy Moss with 14, but Indy also continued to heavily involve running back Edgerrin James in the passing game.
James led the NFL with 2,303 yards from scrimmage, 594 through the air. Consider the Bengals' offense scored 19 touchdowns all season and Dillon had just 158 receiving yards.
The powerful Dillon is a different kind of back compared to James and Marshall Faulk, the Colts' receiver-like back when Manning was a rooke. But Arians said he likes to give good runners a lot touches running and receiving.
Arians is well seasoned since his six-year stint at Temple as head coach ended after the 1988 season. He moved on to running backs coach in Kansas City for four years and then served as offensive coordinator at Mississippi State for three seasons. He then worked as tight ends coach in New Orleans in 1996 and was the offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama for a year before going to the Colts.
LeBeau is still working on a list of candidates that could grow with a possible coaching staff change in Washington.